Looking back on the Lambeth Conference two days after it closed, I feel even more convinced that we used our time well. The key thing in my mind is that, with issues before us which could have led to fundamental division, we were counter-cultural and did not get drawn down a path which would have ended up with ‘winners and losers’.
The temptation to resolve a number of issues, not least the gay issue, was ever before the conference and its designers. It was a path which would have suited some and which was eagerly anticipated by the press. Such a path would, however, have led to division – for it would have brought resolution but at the cost of losing parts of the Communion.
As I see it, although the divisions within the Communion have been portrayed as the ‘orthodox’ versus the ‘liberals’, this is a parody. They are just different ways of understanding how the God we encounter in Jesus Christ works in and through history. They stem from a shared belief that God was in Christ and that the Spirit leads us into truth. The division comes about whether the work of the Spirit has been completed or whether we continue being led into truth as an ongoing process of the Spirit as it leads us to discover and understand more about salvation, the human condition and its context.
We live in a culture of ‘winners and losers’, it is most evident politics – but does it make it a better world?. It is a culture which drives the market, shapes the globalisation of economics and which is champion by those who most frequently found amongst the winners. The culture of ‘winners and losers’ is a culture of division and injustice, especially when one group are constantly amongst the losers. There is little evidence that the culture of ‘winners and losers’ leads to peace, harmony, human flourishing or justice for the poor. It is a competitive culture leading to the survival and success of those who are better educated, more confident and for those who can attract majorities without really engaging with the truth. It is a culture which is loved by those who enjoy division and who thrive on conflict.
The indaba process which has dominated this Conference, with all its imperfections and frustrations, has enabled the overwhelming majority of bishops within the Anglican Communion to engage with each other. In my study group we approached the key question of biblical authority from vastly different stand points, but we engaged with, shared and respected each other’s sincerity and faith.
Whilst the Conference did not produce grand statements, resolutions or answers – it did produce Bishops prepared to listen to and understand the complexity of each other’s faith and position. The divisions and issues have not gone away, but we have sat closely with God and this will serve us well when the time is right for us to address these things. We have renewed a common mind about poverty, injustice and the integrity of creation. We have explored having a covenant relationship – creating a space in which we can relate to each other in the Communion. Most importantly we came away with no thirst or desire to separate, but rather we appear more determined to keep a common voice to witness, support and encourage each other in the 130 countries of the Communion.
Finally we have been enriched by each other – as one Bishop put it “We are the product of this Conference”. So it has not been about resolutions or paper work, but the people who have the great privilege of being Bishops in mission and in serving God’s Church.
We have also had a opportunity to be appropriately counter-cultural, for there are no winners and losers in Christ, but all are one in his love.